- Denzel Washington directed a highly-fictionalized true-ish story called The Great Debaters about a debate team at an all-black college that gets to challenge the Harvard team in the 1930s. As it happens, the team gets assigned to defend the proposition that blacks should have equal rights. They do a good job with that and win, which is good, because otherwise what would the movie be saying? This movie commits the cardinal sin of all hokey period pieces: It irons out the irony.
- Liam Neeson in Taken, wants his daughter back so badly that he’s willing to do anything... He even shoots the Paris police chief’s wife and then refuses her treatment until the chief helps him figure out the whereabouts of the bad guys! Wow, he’s willing to throw his own freedom away in order to save his daughter! Except not. Here’s how naïve I was: I genuinely expected the movie to end with Neeson in prison, getting a visit from his daughter, and assuring her that it’s all worth it if she’s okay. Nope, it ends with Neeson happily flying home with his daughter without a care in the world. Um... How does that work?
But this next one has totally defeated me. Here’s the quote from the book:
- Each episode of “Mad Men” on DVD has a fantastic commentary, usually featuring creator Matt Weiner, and they’re all worth listening to. In one early episode, weasely advertising executive Pete is stewing in his office, as usual, and boundary-breaking copywriter Peggy comes in to discuss a project. In his commentary, Weiner points out (paraphrasing here:) “This is the point on most shows where she would ask ‘what’s wrong?’ as if people go around trying to solve each other’s problems all the time.”
Next week: You get to vote on which questions to chop out of the checklist!
The "Mad Men" quote you can't find (I don't have the DVDs, so I can't help) could be rejiggered by instead citing one of Alexander Mackendrick's maxims, which you can quote from his book and your own post: 5. BEWARE OF SYMPATHY between characters. That is the END of drama. Peggy's failure to feel sympathy for Pete pushes the drama forward as well as humanizes the scene, creating empathy for the oft-repellent Pete Campbell without sacrificing our fondness for Peggy Olsen. She's just doing what people do; unfortunately, Pete needs more than that right then. Who cannot relate to both sides?
Was The Great Debaters lack of irony devastating to its quality? Its aim must have been to allow the audience to feel reassured and righteous rather than challenged or thoughtful. It was about stripping away complexity, not reflecting it. There's a huge market for that, and some people love it. It's a wholly different way of approaching drama than the one you champion. Do you get into those alternative approaches in the book? Acknowledge them, get into their pros and cons a little?
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